“Is This How It’s Going to be From Now On?”

I’ve forgotten who said it to me or when it was, exactly. But I can still see the expression on her face — the puzzlement, the pain.  She and her husband had lost one parent, then another.  There were more diseases on the horizon, more bad news coming.  She was steeling herself for more.

“Is this how it’s going to be from now on?”

It was a question about her age and mine, this time of life, when the losses of friends and family members are mounting.  This year, I lost my father, an old friend from graduate school, my friend Pat.  Two other friends are seriously ill, too.

Last week, another friend, Gary Chapman, died suddenly on a kayaking trip in Guatemala.  He was 58, seemingly robust, but died from a massive heart attack.  His wife, Carol, my dear friend, is suddenly a widow.  She and her husband lived a passionate, adventurous life, full of travel and friends and long conversations.  Together, they were complete.

Now I look at her face, ravaged by grief.  I know she will survive this, because I know how strong she is and how many caring friends she has.  But it’s going to be hard and lonely.  She knows that, less than a week after his death.  She knows she will get through it, somehow, but right now, she is living from minute to minute.

So, yes.  This is how it’s going to be from now on.  This is the human condition, this is how it always was.  It’s this, but it’s more.  I think of our wonderful friend Bob Solomon, the philosopher, and his great capacity for love and friendship.  I’ve always loved and drawn comfort from his words, which were spoken at his funeral, “Gratitude, I want to suggest, is not only the best answer to the tragedies of life. It is the best approach to life itself.”

In this holiday season, I am grateful that Carol and Gary had so many full and good years together.  I’m grateful for birth of Collins Grace Alonzo, the first grandchild of my good friend, Steve Collins — who promises to be a doting grandfather.

I’m happy both our kids will be here for the holidays, that we’ll give the last holiday party in this house we’ve loved, that my husband and I still laugh and take great pleasure in each other.

This is how it’s going to be — forever and from now on.  We celebrate whenever we can, we dance, we drink, we sing off-key.  We seek as much light and life as we can get.  When it grows darker, we light another candle for as long as we can, trying to be grateful for every flicker of fire.  Because, really, how else do you live?

Merry Christmas to you all.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

25 comments… add one
  • Being mired inextricably in real life of this variety for 16 months … I just tell myself. It won’t always be like this (at least I hope not).

  • Steve

    My spouse was almost full-term with our first child in December of 1979, full-enough term that the doctor had prescribed no travel for Christmas. So my parents and her parents were all going to be at our home for the holidays. But her dad died on December 21 on the way to our house, having completed the first leg of a two-day trip. So we traveled for Christmas after all, and Drew was born three weeks later in mid-January. The pregnancy and the newborn that followed Christmas greatly eased the transition to life without W.L. Lanford.

    Collins Grace Alonzo was most recently given a “due date” of December 21, and as we shared a toast to her on the evening of her December 18 birth, my spouse and her sister and I each gave quiet voice to our common joy that she was not born on her due date. It is better that she have a date all her own.

  • Merry Christmas to you too, Ruth.
    Your posts always give me pause…to think and to be grateful for the gifts you and other bloggers give by putting heart and soul out there for the taking. Blessings to you and your family.

  • These are the exact issues I’ve been dealing with over the past several months. Your post was quite timely for me. I have been trying to pull myself out of the worst year that I remember. We do go on. It is not easy. I struggle each day. But my children and grandchildren (2 girls and one expected in April) do make it easier.
    Thanks for posting this. I hope that there are more good interludes than the hard times in our future. This IS how it is going to be-it always was, we just didn’t notice it so much being one generation back from it.

  • Such a lovely expression of the bittersweet feelings so many of us are struggling with this season. I just had dinner with an old and dear friend who returned to California to spend Christmas with his beloved parents, only to have his mother take a terrible fall on his first day home. Now she’s bedridden and very ill and his visit will be quite different from what he expected. And yet he is so glad he is here, and not in Norway where he resides. We have to be grateful for the good times, even as we hang in there for the tough ones. Thanks for expressing this so movingly.

  • It’s a good thought to end the year with, Ruth. Find joy where we can, in the little and big moments of our lives, during good times and bad, for new babies and lives lived to the fullest…

  • Susan

    Ruth: I was so sorry to hear about Gary. What a terrible loss that must be for his family, especially so close to the holidays! I find myself acting a bit more impatient and crabby this time of year, and I suspect it’s because I miss my Dad. I still love baking Christmas cookies and singing carols, but there’s definitely a bittersweet tinge when I walk through the card aisle and think about how I’ll never again buy a Christmas card for my Dad or make Chex Mix for him, as was the family tradition. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  • Thanks for putting our thoughts into words, Ruth. Yes, it is what happens at our age. We lose dear friends and family. But we gain new lives.

    Merry Christmas and enjoy that new home.

  • Ruth – I was thinking about this last week (though not nearly as fluently and beautifully as you) when my cousin brought a new baby girl into the world – exactly a year and a day after his mother passed. And also when both my parents took ill, and many other sad events seemed to congregate around the same time… So much more reason to celebrate the good news and good things in our lives, yes? Otherwise it would be simply too overwhelming.
    Happy holidays to you xoxo

  • Having lost my grandmothers and some pregnancies in recent years, I too share this feeling of sorrow while trying to grasp the joy that can be found. Happy holidays to you Ruth.

  • This is beautiful, Ruth. Thank you for your eloquent reminder of what carries us forward.

  • Merry Christmas, Ruth. Beautifully said, and I hope there’s lots of dancing, drinking, and off-key singing for you in the next week.

  • Being mired inextricably in real life of this variety for 16 months … I just tell myself. It won’t always be like this (at least I hope not).

  • What beautiful and heartfelt sentiments, Ruth. Let’s keep that candle flickering for as long as we can. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  • I’m so sad that your friend dropped dead suddenly and that two others are ill. This post made me cry — both sad tears and happy tears (that so sweet newborn baby.) It is a difficult time of life. A few days ago I interviewed a 92-year-old who has outlived so many of his friends. When you’re that age, you’ll be laughing at how young you are now and how healthy everyone was…

  • A wonderful post, as always. I’m in need of some serious gratitude right now, with all the stuff life is throwing at me. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Ruth, I’m so sorry to read about Gary. So young. You’re attitude, though, is wonderful. To have you here, reminding us all to enjoy life every single day with your bittersweet stories or laugh out loud antics is such a blessing. Thank you.

  • I am feeling my own mortality more and more, especially when I am pursuing the type of active travel activities I prefer. Frankly, growing older is shit, but I try to stay in gratitude. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Ruth. Your writing always adds joy to my life.

  • How do you do it, Ruth? You manage to express so eloquently exactly what I have been feeling as the end of the year rolls around.

  • Merr

    I guess it is sometimes “like this” and then “this too shall pass” seems to happen and that seems normal for a while. Very cyclical – sometimes easy, sometimes growth-inducing, to say the least. Life.

  • I second Alexandra’s thoughts. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. But I am glad that you will have time to share one last Christmas together with your family in your house before moving on. Merry Christmas.

  • I celebrate you. I celebrate your Texas accent that oozes through the printed page. I celebrate your irreverence and your dry humor. I celebrate your ability to make me think and to laugh about morbid topics.

    Life is a terminal illness, that’s true. But relationships and love allow us to wallow in blissful denial every now and then, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Carol Flake Chapman

    We couldn’t live without the blissful denial. But the bliss is real. And the love doesn’t perish when the body weakens, fails and then goes. I can tell you that. You have to relinquish the torch with the faith that it will be carried after you are gone. At our dinner together at our house, Gary talked about his willingness to pass the torch. And he has so many now carrying the torch. A legion of light.

  • On Boxing day I took pictures of my dear cousin, Jocelyn, with her 4th great grandchild, Georgina who is 12 weeks old. She and her second husband (both lost their spouses about 15 years ago), were gathered with all their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. You are right, this is how it is. We are mortal and life has an arc like a rainbow.

  • Oh Ruth, such an important, timely, witty and wonderful reminder this holiday season. I’ve been thinking about what a lovely time I’ve been having this week and it’s not because of fabulous holiday parties or lavish gifts, it’s just been simple gratitude for all that is good in my life at a time when so many of us are dealing with loss of one kind or another. This is how it’s going to be…indeed.

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